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Letter from the editor | 206

A good path

Although the problems with higher education in Brazil are obvious, such as the new law modifying career progression for professors at federal universities, the target of harsh criticism from the scientific community (see Pesquisa FAPESP No. 205), some Brazilian research universities appear to be evolving, following successful examples from abroad. The University of Campinas (Unicamp) Science and Technology Park was not established just to attract companies interested in creating innovative laboratories, but also to improve student education. The cover story by politics editor, Fabrício Marques, explains how the initiative could increase technological development and contribute to basic research. The park uses at least four financing models to build the laboratories to be used by company researchers, professors and students working in the same setting.

What is most interesting is that Unicamp is not alone in this endeavor. The Rio Technology Park, on the campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and TECNOPUC, established by the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, have similar features and goals. The São Paulo System of Technology Parks includes 27 other sites throughout the state, some connected to the University of São Paulo (USP) and the Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp). Here in Brazil, continuous investment in this innovation model began only about 10 years ago. Stanford University, in California, pioneered this concept in the early 1950s in the United States. It was collaboration between universities, research institutes and microelectronics companies that gave rise to the world’s principal cluster of technology companies, namely Silicon Valley, California. If the work being done here continues, it could also contribute to raising Brazil to a new level of technological development (page 14).

This also comes from cooperation between scientists, another feature highlighted in this issue. The Genetic Resources department of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) used genetic engineering to create a type of transgenic soybean that produces seeds with the enzyme cyanovirin-N, which is effective against the HIV virus that causes AIDS, according to laboratory tests carried out in pre-clinical trials. Cyanovirin was isolated from a cyanobacterium in the United States and can be used as a drug in a gel format proposed by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and at the University of London, and applied before sexual relations. The problem is how to make the drug commercially viable given the difficulty in obtaining a large quantity of the protein for the gel. This is where Embrapa came in. It was sought out in 2007 by American researchers to try to produce the enzyme in soybeans. It worked: the “engineered soybeans,” as they are called in technical language, already have seeds with the cyanovirin. The challenge at the moment is to improve the enzyme purification process to test the active ingredient in primates and, subsequently, in humans, as reported by technology editor, Marcos de Oliveira (page 62).

From the countryside to the sea: special editor Carlos Fioravanti spent nine days aboard the research vessel Alpha Crucis along with 19 researchers from USP’s Oceanographic Institute (page 38). He closely followed the scientists’ work and tells us about the first expedition of a geological nature beyond the limits of the continental shelf in a well-equipped vessel that allows researchers to go further and deeper, and travel more comfortably than on the previous vessel, named “Professor Besnard,” which was retired in 2008. The report also shows a side of science rarely seen: the boring and repetitive work, the tension caused by fatigue, and unforeseen embarrassing situations. It is worth reading.

Last month, on the main campus of the University of São Paulo, the building that houses Brasiliana, the renowned library of 32,000 books donated to the university by Guita and José Mindlin, was inaugurated (page 36).  The initiative will not benefit only  researchers because the collection has been undergoing digitalization since 2009 and is available online. This is yet another great story in this issue.